Category Archives: Writing

Chillax, It’s Totes English For All Of Us

spencer-watson-327583-unsplash

 

 

It’s not about whether you accept a word as standard usage or not; it’s that our shared language ignores your opinion. That semicolon that I just used? Obsolete. Or out-dated, if you prefer more unwieldy adjectives. (Much like the letter ‘c’ in ‘adjective.’)

Words need no invitation. They are born from our careless lips and either languish or flourish. It’s just as futile as arguing whether a tulip is more beautiful than a dandelion. (The correct answer is undoubtedly ‘dandelion,’ though, for the record.) English is coldly practical about your derision of its children. It also allows many of its creations to wither without a second glance. Language is neither math nor codified science and there is no universal standard which determines which children live under its roof. Not to hound the point, but even the word ‘dog’ wasn’t originally our word. It took a long time for it to replace ‘hound.’ Yet, we now have both words, with ‘dog’ being top-dog. (And 10 other ones, for good measure, ones into which you can stick your canines.) Irregular verb conjugations dissolve over time, much like our ability to have an expansive view of subjective subjects. Being difficult largely results in a short trip to the dustbin. Oddly enough, though, English has a wordlist longer than any other language. We steal words like pieces of candy from grandma’s purse.

In the 70+ years you’ll use our language, massive change will creep into it. You can resist or embrace it. It’s why we no longer speak Latin and that even basic spelling fills a chasm between us and our mother tongue in England. You’re standing in a river as it flows.

A better use of your time, though, would be to learn at least one other language. It will help to rupture the nonsensical insistence that ‘standard’ or ‘proper’ is anything except a label. It’s hard for me to understand how someone who hasn’t mastered more than language can ignore the certainty of expression another language provides. Competing languages express the same thoughts, hopes, and ideas of one’s mother tongue, yet do so under an alien alphabet and syntax. This is the only proof you need that wasting one’s life over semantics in a language is folly. Early English was considered too crude to express abstract concepts. Some speculate that this is still the case. Some of our current users make us wince in pain and beg to have pencils shoved into our ear canals.

It’s fascinating that language is designed first and foremost for communication yet so many fights pour from the incessant evolution of its form and content. The only winnable war where words reside is to yield and abstain from the fight. Just as most people can’t adequately explain the engines in their personal vehicles, most can’t diagram a sentence or correctly detail the preferred syntax of the language they use for their entire lives.

Whether you want to be in the same boat with those who share your language, you’re there nonetheless, all of us with rows in the water, all of us both perpetrator and victim to the infinite nuances and bastardizations of words and expression. You can row backward if you want but it is counterproductive.

Observing harsh criticisms of language’s evolution, I am confounded. The history of our language is one of appropriation, misuse, creation, and abuse. Why then do so many seemingly ignore the tower of linguistic history behind us?

If you loathe words such as bae, bling, hangry, deglobalization, listicle, ginger, humblebrag, infomania, bromance, totes, chillax, binge-watch, meme, staycation, or any of the other hundreds of words taking up residence in our collective lexicon, I can only say that you’re going to have an unpleasant road ahead of you. It’s what we’ve always done. We welcome all comers to our dictionary. Some stand at the doorstep longer than others but usage knocks loudly and those with an upturned nose lose their votes as time and repetition makes way for all manner of poorly-constructed houseguests.

Language belongs to all who use it. You’ll pass on soon enough, leaving your usage in a hazy trail of rules which will not hold up over time. Language is for the living. The greater your resistance, the more likely that your own evolution of expression is now frozen in a fixed place, one which you’ve placed in a tidy box marked ‘Finished.’ Because it is – and you are.

Above It All And Within

 

66666.jpg

 

Barbara closed her book with resolve, knowing that Pat Conroy’s love of the land which defined him would welcome her once again as soon as she opened the pages. She leaned over to kiss her husband David, even as he paused to remove himself from the world of John Irving. “I’ll be back in a minute, my Lowenstein,” she whispered. He nodded and peered at her over the rim of his ridiculous reading glasses.

She cast aside the bedspread and climbed from the bed. Though the room was a historical catalog of the shared lives of her, her husband, and daughter Elizabeth, Barbara no longer needed to cast a glance at the myriad collection of photos to remember each individual memory. Most of her days filled with recollections of the life they shared before Elizabeth departed. Nineteen eighty-five might as well have been another life. In many ways, it was.

She walked barefoot from the room and turned left, heading toward the darkened room which comprised the epicenter of her life and once belonged to her daughter. She counted the eight paces to the window and pulled it open. The warm breeze enveloped her as she exited to the roof. Tonight, she could smell the honeysuckle floating on the air. A night like tonight was the last one Elizabeth had enjoyed, slightly more than one-third of a century ago.

Barbara knew that on so many previous nights, her daughter Elizabeth had emerged from the same window to smoke. Unlike her daughter, though, Barbara limited herself to a solitary cigarette. She hadn’t smoked a puff in her life until her daughter had died. Since that night, she hadn’t missed a single night without smoking. Rituals demand adherents.

In the event of rain, Barbara would smoke under the overhang of the utility shed, just like Elizabeth. As the drops fell, they reminded her of the minutes her daughter failed to enjoy. Thousands of droplets, accumulating at her feet. At times, she imagined that she could feel each one as it fell.

David knew better than to question his wife. Contemplation requires tranquility, if not silence. Although he would never admit it, he loved his wife more for her dedication to the ritual of remembrance than almost any other thing. He couldn’t bring himself to join her on the roof, even as his absence sometimes drove a wedge between them. 33 years had failed to convince him otherwise.

Barbara measured her inhalations as she watched her quiet neighbors. If anyone now saw the glowing tip of her lit cigarette high on the roof, he or she no longer questioned it. Barbara’s loss was intensely private. When she finished the cigarette, she flicked it out into the yard. David didn’t mind. Collecting the butts was part of his ritual, one he did without comment. In his heart, he knew that one day he would give anything to have the chance to pick up after the people who were no longer with him.

Barbara paused on the other side of the roof, one leg draped over the windowsill. Elizabeth was somewhere out there, in a place of unknowing. Barbara sighed and headed back to her Lowenstein, even as her heart called into the blanket of night.
.
.

Writer’s Block – An Imaginary Foe Leads to Wealth

Once the ad agency of Hodges And Hedge discovered that I never experience writer’s block, even when a heck of a lot of people would rather I did, they gave me a plum freelance assignment. Their usual staff writers were unable to get past the tame subject matter.

Even though I knew nothing about inclement weather safety and tornadoes other than the tried-and-true system of “Avoid It At All Costs,” I got to work.

Last Wednesday, I researched and wrote several pages of draft material. It was filled with data and advice, punctuated by wit. Without a second thought, I submitted it.

Thursday morning, I opened my email to find that the content editor was very unhappy with my work. “It’s not your normal style, X. We appreciate the draft, but we need something we can use, something which captures the essence of tornadic response but stated in a fanciful¬† way.”

Twenty minutes later, I submitted my abridged version.

The State of Vermont’s Department of Tourism bought the piece from Hodges and Hedge for $7,500.

Here it is:

 

5555

 

I’m told that it is going to be used all over the midwest.

Is this story true or not? Ask Sarah Sanders.

 

 

A Home Remedy For the Grammer Police

61Hn6kfWvNL._UX385_

 

NSFW. Contains language about language.

*Yes, I know how to spell ‘grammar,’ but that’s the point.

 

The world is a small place sometimes. It’s hard to gauge where my ideas might reach. In places where people don’t know me, my ideas seem plausible. In others, people point to what I’ve written as a short-hand to get their point across. They write, “This,” with a link, or “This reminds me of you.” To be fair, many people also tell me I’m a moron, but with a lesser frequency that I would have otherwise expected to be the case.

When I write about people having the freedom to take back their own languages and use and abuse them as they see fit, most of the response is overwhelmingly positive. There is indeed a time and place for exacting language – and that time and place is normally one which doesn’t require our presence, much less enthusiasm, for it. The responsibility for language’s needless complexity does not fall upon the average user.

On one of my alter-ego projects, someone wrote me. She was irritated at a few of her well-meaning and passive-aggressive friends and family, some of whom apparently rejoice in being grammar police. She told me that several of her friends and family were afraid to post anything and sometimes say anything, anticipating the overzealous criticism. She had tried ignoring them, politely asking them to stop and finally, in a last-ditch effort, she started lashing out at them. She saw some of my craziness on someone’s blog and decided to offer me a chance to weigh in.

My appeals to tell those who think English is a fixed target should go jump in a frozen lake struck a chord with her. She said she had never thought of Standard English as a formal and shared means to learn a dialect that no one learned at home – or that spoken language drives the language no matter how many cries of anguish we hear from those invested in “correct English.”

“I need a way to get my point across, even with a sledgehammer, if necessary. What do you recommend?” she wrote.

“Well, if you’re all adults, I recommend avoiding behavior which invites more contempt. They’re not going to change, that much is obvious. It’s not a ‘you’ issue, not really. They need to gain esteem by policing other people. You can’t fix them, so you need to focus their attention away from you.” So far, so good, as I wrote back.

“First, it’s important that you politely tell each person who has been a pain in your rear to please stop and that further trolling is unwelcome. Then, each time one of your friends, family, or acquaintances pulls their grammar nonsense, send them this,” I wrote:

<To the grammar police: You put the ‘dick’ in ‘dicktionary.’ Regards, Don’t Care >

 

I told her to write it every time someone pulled out their bag of tactics on her – after they ignored one more final polite request to please stop. If they responded with anger, write the same thing, over and over. If they tried to police her in person, I told her to say it out loud, even in awkward social situations. I pointed out that her social faux pas was no greater than theirs, that of policing other adults in trivial matters.

“If that doesn’t work, let me know.” I wished her well and told her to follow through every time her hackles went up. I reminded her that it was senseless for her to get upset and to instead transfer that irritation back those being jerks. I warned that it would take time. She told me that a few of her friends and family had been torturing her for years and that a few weeks of concerted effort would be better than living the rest of her life under the thumb of a bunch of control freaks.

Several days later, she wrote me and told me that at first it really bothered her to be discourteous. After a few times, though, she got invested in the reaction. She had one last hold-out, though, a family member who tended to lash out about any topic, whether it be politics, religion, grammar, or how to fold towels in the guest bathroom.

I asked her to send me the name of the family member so that I could get a picture from their social media. After she did so, I told her to check her email and follow the instructions and to only follow them if the person torturing her didn’t heed one last polite request to please stop bothering her.

Over a week later, she wrote back, to tell me that it had worked beyond belief.

Her family member had become irate and sent an email and social media messenger blast to all their mutual friends and family, accusing her of lashing out without reason. Her family member didn’t stop to realize that it provided the victim with a list of everyone affected. She wrote back to all of them, asking them to let her know if they were interested in knowing the real story. Most did and after reading her explanation were completely on board. Almost all agreed that it would be better for everyone to ignore what they perceived as errors – and to certainly not condone those who continued to be jerks after politely being asked to step away or to bother someone else who had no objection.

The picture attached to this post is what she emailed, after begging and politely requesting relief at least a dozen times…

 

weererfff

 

P.S. It’s important that anyone reading this understand that at each stage I insist that the first course of action is to respond with politeness and courtesy, even if the person making your life a living hades is beyond redemption.

P.P.S. I didn’t invent the word ‘dicktionary.’

 

 

The Brown / Hat Conundrum

dgdgdf

 

 

The Brown / Hat Conundrum

As you comment to tell me that what I’ve said is stupid,
remember that you decided to waste a precious sliver of
your finite life to denigrate me or my opinion.
People angrily comment when they either recognize the
truth in a contrary opinion or they are insecure about
their own tenuous hold on the world. Lashing out at
another for expression is a self-accusation and an
acknowledgment that your beliefs don’t sustain scrutiny.

Lady Bird 1962, A Commentary

The internet is supposed to be inhabited by trolls. Many believe that Facebook is a place of mindless drivel. Longer posts involving reading are a waste of time, according to some people.

Recently, I wrote a story titled “Lady Bird 1962.” I didn’t write it for profit, perfection or pride. I have a list of several thousand thoughts, stories, and one-way deadends. Lady Bird flew around in my head until it became to be a real story in my own imagination.

A few of my friends read the story on my personal page.

Thousands of strangers read it when I posted it on my public Facebook page. Despite being seen by so many people, I didn’t get one negative comment or trollish snark. For those who shared it, I got to read how much the story meant to them personally, as if they were standing in the snow with Lady Bird, or looking at her through the prism of a windshield, decades ago.

This social media experiment we find ourselves in, the one which polarizes so many people, doesn’t have to be exclusively for public discourse. It can be, even if only infrequently, a means to create a connection to people.

Link to my public figure Facebook post…

Lady Bird

33333

 

Lady Bird, 1962

She had stood outside in the snow for several minutes, admiring the winter birds high above her. The Pennsylvania sky was as overcast and majestic as her secret mood. The alchemy inside her granted her both patience and anticipation, each uneasy with the other. The infrequent passersby would note her demure presence as she shifted her hands inside her coat pockets. Many would take a second lingering glance, as something in her eyes and face seemed exotically out of place in the slush and roadside snow.

I alone dared to pull over and shut off the engine to my car. Inside it, I remained for a long moment, momentarily unsure of myself and caught off guard by the uncertainty. I smashed my cigarette out in the console ashtray, reached for my camera and exited the vehicle. The wind ran up the legs of my pants, causing me to shiver and clutch one side of my coat hastily.

Without preamble, I swallowed my fear and I crossed the slushy street and asked, “Can I take your picture?” My voice came out like a high-pitched plea. She laughed.

“Of course, although I don’t know why you would want to.” She laughed again. She motioned for me to come closer.

Once I reached her side, she pointed up and I followed the arc of her arm as she raised it.

“Those birds, they only seem to come around for 2 or 3 days a year. If they land nearby, they’ll talk to us in their own way. And if you throw them bread, they will swoop past you close enough to touch, if you were so inclined.” Her voice took on a lilting cadence as she spoke as if she were reading her own diary in the late hours of the night.

I watched the birds as I stood beside her. From her pocket, she removed a carefully-folded paper sack. She opened it and reached inside, then scattered pieces of dark bread in the snow.

“Wait,” she whispered, her head still pointed toward the sky.

She threw another handful, higher in the air, and the pieces arced and fell.

The birds, high above us, had taken notice and began to point their bodies downward. Within seconds, a dozen birds were swirling around us, their wings making rhythmic noises as they approached. Each bird had a small swath of red on their necks as if to mark their squadron with a uniform insignia.

Almost in unison, the birds extended their talons and landed. They began poking rapidly at the rye bread pieces on the white snow. As the bread disappeared, the birds began clucking and squawking in staccato bursts. They sounded like old ladies, with voices ruined by clouds of cigarette smoke, each trying to shout down the others.

As the woman tossed more bread pieces on the ground, the birds would take turns grabbing a piece as the others continued their squawking.  Their collective noises sounded like out of tune violins but I could discern the haunting melody of it nonetheless.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked me.

I nodded yes as I listened and watched. I was hesitant to speak, lest the lingering magic of the moment notice me observing it.

With no more bread in her pockets, she put her hands back inside them and waited. The birds restlessly paced, their squawks becoming a disharmonious crescendo. They lifted off but instead of taking to the sky, they looped around us two or three times as they rose. After reaching 30 or 40 feet, their squawks ceased, leaving an exquisite absence of sound. The woman laughed again, a laugh tinged with delight, and it reminded me of a row of shattered icicles falling from an early morning roof.

I stepped away from the woman, raised my camera, and pointed it at her. She looked away from the sky for a moment and smiled at me. I pressed the shutter button and felt the moment already begin to fade away, like watching an old friend sitting in the back of his parent’s car, waving as he pulled away.

As I lowered the camera, something must have registered in my face, as she ran the few step between us and hugged me, one filled with warmth.

I got back into my car, once again inside the familiar and known. As I started the car, I looked back one last time, to see her there, faced turned upward in silent joy as she watched her birds flying high.

I’ve never shared this picture with anyone before today, all these years later.

I’ve witnessed the width and breadth of this fascinating world. Nothing, however, lingers in my heart like the stolen moment I shared with Lady Bird. I do not know who she is or anything particular to her story but I do know that sometimes if we dare, the most common thing can shatter itself to reveal the wondrous.

Those birds are still up there, flying high, waiting for us all, if we dare. Lady Bird might be just around the corner for you, too.

 

It’s Your Language – Use It With Abandon

jordan-butler-29125.jpg

You don’t need my permission, of course. You certainly don’t need my approval, either. Likewise, you are entitled to roll your eyes in derision, mockery or contempt at anyone who corrects you for your punctuation or grammar in a text message. Unless your relationship is based on inequality, you should also expand this idea to include all private messages.

I’m not advocating total disregard for decorum – it’s not an invitation to use the ceiling fan to shave your back hair. Rather, my point is that anyone who takes the time to admonish you for informal text communication is a bigger nuisance than any perceived wrongdoing from sloppy language.

If the other person is chiding you good-naturedly, it doesn’t count as snobbery, so try to let those instances slide without a street duel. I’m not advocating that you be an ass to light-hearted cajoling or ridicule. What I am asking is that you take charge of your life and stop worrying about grammar and content when you are informally communicating. We didn’t vote on this concern – so ignore it.

It’s amazing how much of your life can be lived in this manner. Even a life perfectly lived will draw criticism, right down to the style of pants you wear or how you like to eat your french fries.

Those who relish correcting grammar can’t be stopped, so it’s best to adopt the position that they all suffer from the incurable disease of Grammar Tourette’s Syndrome, except their affliction stems from the mistaken idea that they are arbiters of grammar, spelling, and usage and this status compels them to lash out in self-appointed glee.

Sidenote: English doesn’t have a committee to decide usage or structure. It’s a fluid, evolving mass of ridiculous logic and rules. It belongs to all of us. Standard English is a myth we strive for without pausing to consider that it’s a moving target. Even if we understand the rules, they certainly don’t hold sway in our intimate private lives.

Life is short. Using tools for rapid, convenient communication should not be an ordeal or an exercise in English 101. Be as vigilant as you find it necessary to be and adjust accordingly. But if your blurbs to others are treated with a hostile eye, assume that the person complaining is a bit of an ass and go about your life as if his or her presence in no way determines how you’ll live. That part is most certainly true.

One of life’s greatest pleasures is knowing the rules and ignoring them. No matter how vigilant you are with language, you’re going to make mistakes. Even when you’ve followed all the rules, there will still be disagreement, even among the most educated and learned individuals. Language is not science, nor will it ever be. Since it’s always evolving, become a deliberate part of that process and reject all the components and obligations which don’t serve you.

Take a moment and really, really piss off a language purist. Write as you will and laugh when the sputtering objections commence. If they’ve taken the time to let you know how irritated they are by your lack of adherence to the ‘rules,’ you owe it to yourself to help them get over their unnatural affliction.

Get out your phone and text someone now. Pretend that you’re drunk and can’t spell any word longer than ‘eel.’ You’ll thank me for it.

K?

Your welcome

C U later.

Apostrophonies

samuel-scrimshaw-361576

 

Apostrophonies: a word to describe those dedicated to the linguistic contortions of logic and denial to justify the continued existence of the apostrophe.

After years of watching the apostrophe debate ebb and flow, I’m voting that we eliminate it. Most of our communication occurs verbally and we’ve survived centuries without needing to wave our arms when an apostrophe is needed.

The grammar brigade can gnash their teeth in protest as they make the tired argument that tradition trumps utility or that our collective language will lose some of its elegance. It’s snobbery to decry nonstandard usage and it bemoans the history of every single change to our language.

Elimination of the apostrophe isn’t a capitulation to the myth of uneducated misuse or modern texting; it’s an overdue necessity. Our language has continuously evolved, and usage determines its structure. We have no arbiter of official usage; “Standard English” is a myth perpetuated by those whose livelihood depends on it, comprising a cabal of dusty minds looking backward.

To make matters worse, many people don’t realize we have a verb to describe the insertion of an apostrophe: apostrophize. Or ‘apostrophise,’ if you’re in the country in which our language was birthed.

One can make subtle arguments regarding those instances when an apostrophe MIGHT reduce vagueness, but if this is your argument, you can’t turn a blind eye toward the other 3 dozen ways in which English contains aberrant structures which inhibit clear understanding.

Contractions, plurals, plural possessives, apostrophes-of-omission, and all other usages have exceptions which don’t further the objective of language or increase its beauty.

Like it or not, we can literally change the language in any manner we see fit. We’ll either rid ourselves of the apostrophe or worsen its usage as people struggle against its ongoing and needless usage in our language.

The apostrophe should get its coat and make a graceful exit before we kick it in the seat of the pants.

Purists might miss it but I’m certain they’ll find another rallying cry of illogic to focus on. Those insisting on tradition always do.

Please remember that I love language but despise the focus on mechanics. Language should not be an obstacle to expression.

P.S. Remember that I’m not advocating for a free-for-all in regards to all rules, so please cook up a better point about what I am NOT saying.